Hd: Elk hunting, Part II
At the end of part one I was thanking my lucky stars – literally. Lost, cold and wet, the celestial bodies guided me back to camp and a cup of warm soup.Now it is early morning, and the stars are still out. They have rotated 180 degrees, chasing each other around the pinpoint center of the North Star, and the dawn is pushing rosy fingers into wine-dark skies.I’m out of the tent and onto the path, walking briskly at first to warm myself and then slowly as the light grows, and I veer off and begin to navigate dark timber.The forest is silent, still sleeping. Not a single sound breaks the pastoral quietude except for me.And man, do I break it.My boots are like anvils. The ground is entirely covered in dry, crunchy aspen leaves. I’m loud like a bulldozer. Loud like a DC-10. I stop, try to tiptoe, but it’s no use. It’s like walking through a forest made of Captain Crunch.Finally I find a wet, semi-marshy hillside and I creep along it. Around me the forest is awaking, birds are chirping and the squirrels (town-criers of the alpine world) have begun their endless, ceaseless chattering. I stop under a dewy spruce tree and wait, hoping the forest will forget and forgive my excessive noisemaking.By chance I spot a big bull grouse hidden in a pocket of grass beside me. I step toward him and he bursts into flight. Big as a turkey, and as loud, he alights on a branch several yards away and eyes me sideways, suspicious.”Hey,” I say. “How are you this morning?”He doesn’t answer. He sits in perfect view, motionless and massive, a giant among his species.”Look at you,” I say. “You’re as big as a turkey.”He bobs his head a motion of thanks?”Look, fatty,” I ask, “You seen any elk come through this way?”He doesn’t know.I don’t know either.I move on.Already I know this will be a day for napping, reading, and imagining elk footsteps when really there are none. The animals can hear me from a mile away.Then I hear the snap and rumble of a rifle shot from somewhere nearby, less than a mile perhaps, down the hill and near to the trail. I know the terrain here, and get the feeling that if there are animals on the run, they will run one of two ways to my left or to my right. I position myself high on a point that overlooks two drainages, thinking that the animals will come by on one side or the other.Then I pull a book out of my pocket and begin to read.I’m lost in the pages nearly an hour later when I hear the first of them coming. I hear a branch break 500 yards away and my head snaps up. Soon I hear a faint thud, and the sauntering rhythm of several elk trotting. They are in escape mode breaking branches and moving quickly, but not sprinting this pace is meant for endurance.The sound is like thunder, but instead of breaking and then fading it grows louder. Very loud there must be at least 20 animals crashing through the forest in a flood, headed directly toward me. The forest is thick here, and the whole herd could easily pop out 15 yards away, coming on at a dead run. The rumble grows louder, deafening, heart-pounding, they are tearing up the forest, ripping through trees, and I get the feeling that my spine is crawling out the top of my head.Slowly, ever so slowly, I pull my rife into position and make a motion to kneel. Then three massive gray bodies appear. One spots me, jumps on top of the other two in a stumbling heap of dark hair and hoof, and suddenly the entire forest around me explodes. Twenty is too small an estimate 40 elk at least have surrounded me, and the forest explodes with the sound of breaking branches and pounding legs. For an instant, just a small moment, I am the epicenter of an elk-made earthquake.Then they are gone. The smell of musk lingers, and everything is silent again.Tom Boyd is a lifelong Vail resident and freelance writer. His work appears regularly in the Vail Trail and the Rocky Mountain News, among other publications. He can be reached at (970) 390-1585 or firstname.lastname@example.org.